The Most Important Things in Life

I have a wonderful friend who inspired me with today’s post. He shared a list of his – a sort of “life philosophies” list, a list of things to keep in mind – and it’s been on my mind all week. I wanted to create my own list, print it, and put it somewhere I’ll see often.

My list has several similarities with his (he had some great ideas!), but I went deep and thought about what the most important things are in life (to me), some rules of thumb, and questions to ask myself.

I’ll share this list here today in the hopes that it’ll inspire you to create your own or reflect on your own priorities.

Hope you enjoy it!

The most important things in my life

1. Honesty

2. Having the confidence and courage to express that honesty.

3. Energy. This means taking care of my health and body with diet and exercise, taking care of my mind with frequent ideas and input, and taking care of my heart with the things which fill my cup.

3a. Diet and exercise: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (Michael Pollan). The exercise that I enjoy best is daily walks interspersed with occasional sports (like tennis), yoga and HIIT.

3b. An energetic mind: My mind functions best when it receives plenty of input, such as by reading many non-fiction books and listening to interesting podcasts. Ancillary to this is having frequent interesting conversations with people.

3c. Filling the cup: Things that make me feel whole and fulfilled include time spent with loved ones, writing music or working on other creative endeavors, writing, and having a little space in my life to breathe and not “do”.

4. Marriage. Continually reinforce this bond with random acts of kindness, interesting conversations, and weekly dates. Prioritize my marriage, especially over tasks that seem important but aren’t (like checking emails).

5. Time. Time is one of my most precious resources, and all of my decisions should take this into account. Am I making the most of my time? Am I organized and efficient? Do I have enough time for the things that matter most (relationships, fun, personal development, creative projects)?

6. Relationships with others (children, family, close friends). Be thoughtful and giving. Remember and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Have meaningful conversations that strengthen our bonds. Be a non-judgemental safe space.

7. Autonomy. Prioritize having freedom and control in my life and work. 

8. Money. Increase revenue (to create more time and autonomy), decrease expenses, and make investments.

9. Reverence. Take time to appreciate the beauty and sacredness of life. Step out of the ordinary and remember the extraordinary.

10. Learning and knowledge. Along with health, relationships, and passion projects, learning/knowledge make my life rich and fulfilling.

11. Passion projects. Pursue creative passions and projects without fear. 

 

Rules of thumb

1. Never have my phone at the table. 

2. Eat meals with my family whenever possible.

3a. Before speaking, run my words through three filters: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

3b. Don’t engage in gossip or negative talk about others.

3c. Complaints are seldom if ever necessary. 

4a. Limit/moderate spending on non-essential things (makeup, clothing, impulse purchases, take-out)

4b. Spend freely (within reason) on things which contribute to my personal and professional growth (books, courses, exams, membership groups)

5. Remember to breathe and slow down. Stop and smell the roses.

6. Listening to music enriches my life, so don’t be lazy about it.

7. Prioritize sleep (7-8 hours). 

8a. Ask questions about others instead of talking about myself.

8b. Don’t be afraid to share my opinions and viewpoints in a non-aggressive manner.

8c. Don’t allow opinions and viewpoints to become my personality, which creates rigidity. Be open and willing to consider another point of view. 

9. Don’t wear sweatpants or leggings-as-pants outside the home (exception is wearing leggings to the gym).

10. Take good care of my possessions so they last longer.

11. Make simple decisions in 5 minutes or less (ie what to eat for dinner).

12. Allow myself and others the ability to make mistakes without judgment or criticism.

13. Take the time to cook nice meals, even if they’re simple and quick.

 

Questions

1. How can I have more fun with this?

2. How can I be more social with this?

3. What would 10x my results?

4. Who are five people who have what I want?

5. Is this the most important/best use of my time?

6. What can I learn from this experience?

7. Can I learn more by doing a 30-day trial on this subject?

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HOUSE TOUR: Small town, small house, lots of plants!

Even though we’ve lived at this house for 5 years, it’s not too late for a house tour – right? We’ll be making some changes in the next year, so I thought it’d be fun to take you around our space, which we’re very proud of.

P.S., we didn’t clean or tidy before this video, so what you see is real life! 🙂

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A Little Bit Blue.

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m wrapping up some work-related tasks for the week. The sun finally came out, though the air is cold for being the middle of summer.

After enjoying an Ethiopian buffet for lunch, I was waiting to pay. The owner had to go hunt down the debit machine, so while I waited, my eyes gravitated toward the television.

I’m not a news person. You might call me ignorant, and you might be right. But I’m a sensitive person and news has the tendency to quickly turn me cynical.

On the television, the news was detailing the most recent exploits of ICE. Pulling people from cars, separating parents from children. I almost broke down in tears right there. So easy to say from my point of privilege, as a Canadian woman. But how is it that these things are happening now, in this day and age? How has the fear of immigrants gone this far?

My problems are trivial, but they’re mine. I’m not at risk of deportation or separation from my family, which should be the end of that thought. But still, my own little concerns, little though they may be, feel heavy and weighty in my life.

We’ve been looking at houses in the city, closer to childcare, further from Michael’s work. Currently I drive 1.5 hours (one way) in order to have access to quality childcare. I’ve been doing this a couple times a week for over half a year, and the longer it goes on, the more rage I feel, rage against a broken system. Canada is better than the United States, but childcare is expensive and not readily available to all. It’s why so many moms decide to stay home while their children are young, permanently affecting their ability to advance their career in a meaningful way.

I want to be a mom AND have a meaningful career. It shouldn’t be so hard to have both.

Moving to the city means a daily commute of 1.5 hours for my husband, so it isn’t a fair trade-off. At the same time, it isn’t fair that I have to drive so far just to work, especially with a child who doesn’t always like the long drive. Few things are more stressful than inconsolable screaming during endless highway stretches.

If I could learn to be happy with what is. If I could embrace being a stay-at-home mom, and put work on the backburner. Even for a year. We could ride out Michael’s work contract and consider moving afterward. When I write it out, when I think about it, it seems like the obvious answer. Just deal with it, right?

Yet when I turn that over in my heart, I just feel blue. Heavy. Like the story of my next year will be defined by a resigned sigh.

Staying at home and being a good parent is challenging, but I don’t mind it. I spent the first year of Jane’s life scaling way back on work and focusing on being a stay-at-home mom. I made good friends centered around playdates. I cooked food and kept the house in order. It was fine. But now I’m in a phase where I want to focus on work. Especially because the possibility exists of becoming a parent to an infant again, which will reset the cycle.

The problem is the lack of choice. If I had the choice, I would work 3-4 days a week right now. It’s just too much driving, too much time away from home. A regular 8-hour day turns into a 12-hour day.

Still, there are real issues in the world and I’m stuck on this one. I’m complaining about a commute, but at least I have a family to commute to.

Many women would kill to be in my position. We can afford for me to stay at home with my daughter. Between my (small) income and my husband’s (slightly less small) income, we’ve been able to make it work in our little town. Many women work long hours with low pay and don’t have the option to stay home, even if they wanted to. Other women, like myself, feel somewhat forced into the situation, and a little resentful about it as a result.

Jane loves her current daycare. She’s excited to go there, and happily waves goodbye when I drop her off. Playing with the kids is a nice reprieve for her. The thought of pulling her out as the winter months approach, a real possibility, is a heartbreaking.

Where I live, winter driving can be unpredictable. Blowing snow, blizzards, fog, and ice are all reasonably common. In the peak of winter, we only have 8 daylight hours, and highway driving in the dark in these conditions only exacerbates them. Last winter I braved the highways once a week for daycare because I was desperate, but I don’t know that I’d do it again. It’s one thing if it’s just me in the car; it’s another entirely when my daughter’s in there with me.

So then Michael is supposed to drive in these conditions, and every day? Is that a fair trade-off?

We’ve been making serious plans to list our house in the fall and to start looking for a new place in the city. This should thrill me, but I’m left feeling guilty and a little bit blue. My husband is such a generous and kind person. Moving makes his life so much harder, but he wants to make my life easier.

Why can’t I do the same for him? Put it off for a year, or even half a year? Try to shove that resigned sigh back down and make the most of it?

So we’re floating in the ether of indecision, with no decision on either side being an easy one. I’m waiting for that alternative – that brilliant idea that is so perfect and I can’t believe why I didn’t think of it before.

Like maybe we just go travel. Do the opposite of settle down. Embrace the ether. But then I think about it, and it seems prohibitively difficult. Too difficult to be worth it.

What about getting a little condo in the city, so I can have a place to live during the work week, and then go home for the weekends? A temporary solution for the next school year? But that’s expensive and I don’t want to be away from my husband so much, and to have him be away from his daughter so much.

We’ve been having a wonderful summer so far. The pacing has been good and we’ve had lots of time together as a family. In some moments I’m blindingly happy. In some moments, it’s clouds over that sunny sky. It’s a little bit blue. Thanks for reading.

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Why the “Six months to live” lens isn’t always the right one

I like using the “six months to live” lens to get a grip on my priorities.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

This – “If I had six months left to live, what would I do with my life? Who would I spend time with?

I’ve always considered this lens to be the best litmus test of if what I’m doing is the best use of my time. With this lens I’ve easily determined that the most important aspects of my life are family, friends and meaningful work. Throw in some good food, fresh air and books and I’m golden.

But recently, I started thinking about it some more. And I had this realization: Why would I want to live my whole life like it’s the last chapter of my book?

Friends and family are important, but does it really make sense to factor them as the highest priority in all situations? Maybe, maybe not.

For example, if my husband, child and I wanted to do some extended traveling, say for a year, doing so doesn’t pass the friends and family litmus test. We’d be away for so long. That’s not what I’d want if my life was ending.

But my life isn’t ending (that I know of). And it’s virtually impossible to predict when it will. So does that mean I should never go on big adventures? Never do anything that takes me away from the anchor of home?

Of course not – that would be ridiculous. Going on big adventures is important for a whole whack of other reasons. It would be hard to be away from my family for so long, but there would be all kinds of benefits to extended travel. Not to mention my closest family – my husband and child – would be right there alongside me.

And that’s only one example. What about moving, or considering where we want to live for the next 5-10 years (or more)? Using the “6 months to live” lens, it makes the most sense to stay local to where most of our friends and family are. Even if there are many sacrifices to doing so.

Forgive this slight digression, but it’s been heavy in my thoughts: Our dream location wouldn’t be too expensive, would be near high-quality daycare, give us the opportunity for plenty of outdoor time, be a unique and beautiful house (my husband’s criteria), have a sizeable vegetarian community with access to great produce and restaurants, have plenty of sunlight, wouldn’t get too cold, and be walkable. I’d probably also want to live somewhere English-speaking. Milder temperatures would also mean not having to drive in extreme conditions like blowing snow, blizzards, and storms so frequently – a major upside for me. Not having hour-long commutes is a major bonus too.

Almost none of these criteria apply to where we currently live. Yet, it’s near friends and family. What to do?

There are other situations in which the “six months” lens falls apart. Say you’re working a job that doesn’t light your soul up. It wouldn’t make sense to quit you job and travel on a whim, or quit your job and write that album you always dreamed of writing – these things require thought and planning.

The “six month” lens is a great one in some ways. Have those meaningful conversations with loved ones, tell them how much they mean to you. Work on that album – make time for it if it’s important. Keep your priorities in mind when you and your child are getting sick of each other at 4:30pm.

But it’s not a great lens in all ways. I only pray that my life story is bursting with interesting chapters, and that my last one is far, far away. There will always be periods where I’m pulled to my family above and beyond any other consideration. But it’s okay to be pulled away from family sometimes as well.

I’m reminded of when I lived in Austin and Toronto between 2013-2015. Those were fond years – difficult, but dear to me. At the end of it, I was ready to be close to my family and enjoy all the familiar comforts of my home province. But I’m so grateful that I lived away. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Now, being home for five years, I’m starting to feel the tug of strings again. The tug of adventure.

I was bothered by it at first, swatting it away like an errant fly, I’ve since come around. It’s all good, it’s all okay, it’s exactly right.

Watch this space.

-Allysia

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Summer Days

You won’t believe me when I say it, but Jane has grown a lot of hair since her first birthday in February.

Jane at 1 year
At almost 1.5 years old

My mother loves to tell me that I didn’t get my first haircut until age 3. So I guess her bald genes come from me. 🙂

Now that my husband is off work for the summer, we’ve been spending most of our time in the backyard, at the kiddie pool, and cooking great food.

(I also spend quite a bit of time at the piano, but that’s nothing new).

Jane’s got her own little chair for the backyard (though climbing up on our patio furniture is fun too). Our backyard is small but we were determined to make it usable this summer. Being childless and cooped up in the summer is no fun, but once you have children it’s basically impossible to stay inside (unless you want to deal with constant crankiness).

My lettuce box is growing nicely (with swiss chard currently exploding out of its boundaries). I have some crops growing in my parent’s yard as well, but those plants are much more sad. We had an early June frost that did some serious damage, coupled with random hot temperatures and drying winds.

Jane had her first sandbox experience at the town fair. She spent a solid 30 minutes in there. Michael and I had a real conversation. I guess we’re going to need to get this child out to the beach soon!

This Bach fugue will be the death of me, but what better time to tackle a project such as this than summer? I’m lucky enough to have a flexible schedule for the next couple of months. It’ll probably take a good 30+ hours to get this one to about 80% competency. Bring it, Bach.

Spent some time with petting zoo animals as well. Jane was interested in the animals, but a little nervous (especially of the big and friendly llama). Michael’s tattoo is probably a couple of sessions away from completion!

And what summer is complete without waffles?

xo,

-Allysia

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Your Future is Here

With the approach and arrival of each new season, I start to get antsy. I complete goals I’ve been working on, and I start itching for a change. New ideas, new plans, new things to do.

It always starts with daydreaming. I would drive my daughter to daycare, hour-long commutes in the bright early morning of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. I lost interest in my audiobooks and podcasts, normally so dear to me. Instead I opted for music. Sometimes I’d just let Spotify pick the tunes, and sometimes I’d listen to the same song 100 times in a row. But I chose music so I could think, and feel. Be inside my own mind instead of someone else’s.

With the daydreaming came reflection and forward-thinking. What would my 10-years-from-now self look like? What would she be doing? Where am I currently unsatisfied, and what can I do about it?

Hours and hours of these thoughts. What do I want my life to feel like? How do I be a better wife, a better mother, a better person?

These last few weeks have been so busy. I hosted an Online piano convention, and with the launch of that there were many little tasks, such that my mind couldn’t relax. I’d be at the dinner table with my family and be thinking about work. It would be 10pm and I’d feel guilty for reading my book instead of answering emails. I knew it was a small drop in the ocean of my life, that things wouldn’t be like this forever.

The convention is over now (and it WAS fun). Yesterday, the last day it ran, I took Jane to the paddling pool. I watched her pour water from the toy watering can, over and over. I watched her climb in and out of the pool, over and over. I watched her fill a bucket ever-so-slowly with small drops of water from little toys. And then I chased her around the pool when she ripped off her hat and refused to put it back on.

And in all this, I had one thought in my mind:

If I was given a death diagnosis – 6 months to live – this is exactly what I’d want to be doing. How lucky am I, to spend an hour of a hot summer afternoon watching my daughter play? What’s better?

And yet – and yet – until I actually started thinking about it, my mind was running thoughts like, Oh, I wonder if Logan took care of that task. Oh, I wonder if Michael remembered to rotate the laundry. Does Jane really want me to fill the watering can again, for the 100th time? Why is she just sitting on the edge of the pool – doesn’t she want to swim? Is she going to start freaking out if she remembers she’s wearing a hat and then tries to take her off? Am I going to have to haul her back to the car, kicking and screaming, if she takes off the hat and refuses to wear it?

(Sidenote: After chasing my hatless baby, and then scooping her up and committing to leaving the pool as punishment, she was chipper as a bird, waving and saying “bye” to everyone and anyone there.)

These thoughts run like rivers and are inevitable, I know. But when I caught myself, when I put on the 6-months-to-live lens, it took the 100 scattered pieces of my mind and drew them all back into one coherent whole. And the whole said, “what is more important than this, right now?

Not work, as much as I love giving and contribution and meaningful endeavors. With six months to live, I would certainly find a project or two to throw myself into, to leave my mark.

But I was so lucky to be there with my daughter, and I’m so lucky so often, and yet I grumble and forget and blink and my day is gone and without gratitude.

For the last few weeks in my daydreams, I’ve been flashing 10 years ahead. In that vision I have plenty of time for my friends and my husband and my family, and I also have the freedom to do meaningful work. But more than just a vision, my 10-year idea comes with a feeling. A feeling of flow, a feeling of wholeness. The 100 bits of my mind, unified.

And that feeling, it isn’t 10 years away. How depressing if it was! I can have that feeling – fulfillment? – right now, if only I look for it.

It’s not hard to find.

So often we think of the future as something to reach for, goals to check off. And that’s a fun thing to do, and to think about. But what we really want from our future is a feeling. Freedom, happiness, confidence, fulfillment. We might say we want money in our future, say, but what we really want is what the money will give us – freedom, happiness, confidence, fulfillment.

I don’t have the freedom to hop a plane tomorrow, it’s true. But I have the freedom to go on a random road trip if adventure is what I seek.

I don’t have the things that I imagine would bring me more happiness, such as a house in a city. But our house in a town is better than any house that I know. It’s got great ratty hardwood floors and color and spunk and personality and lots and lots of plants (thanks for that, Michael).

I don’t have some things I imagine would bring me more confidence, such as really nice clothes. I have okay clothes, some new, but lots of items that are many years old. I also don’t have the 125lb body I had pre-pregnancy. But I’m fit and hearty and healthy at 140lbs. And maybe not having all the nice things is its own little gift. If I only had a few main outfits, could I not be happy or confident? If I can’t be happy or confident without a variety of trendy outfits, what does that say about my life and my priorities?

And if the things I imagine will bring me fulfillment aren’t already present in my life, then that’s a significant problem. Fulfillment comes from meaningful work and healthy relationships. I’m lucky enough to have those right now if only I notice them and invest in them.

My 10-year future is here, right now. Less grand, but the feelings are all there for the taking, all the goodness of life before me like a buffet, if only I notice and take a bite.

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The Messy Days

“You could be good today, but instead you choose tomorrow.” -Marcus Aurelius

I like to read during breakfast and lunch. If I’m being totally honest, it isn’t usually books I’m reading (unless I’m in the middle of something engrossing), but rather articles – something I’ve found in my blog feed, something someone’s recommended, or something I’ve stumbled across on my own.

Today I was reading about perfect days. How your life is just a series of ordinary days. Vacations, they’re fun, but they’re not the real, everyday experience.

So if your day-to-day life isn’t up-to-snuff, then that’s a big problem. That’s your life.

As I was weeding in my garden this morning, I let these thoughts bounce around my head. What is my perfect day? A million answers emerged – I can’t settle on a template. I’m not even sure if I should.

And, am I happy in my day-to-day? If not, what am I doing wrong?

Happiness isn’t usually an external thing – not for us spoiled first-world people who don’t experience real problems. I don’t go hungry, I have a roof over my head and I’m not a victim of violence. There’s plenty of love in my life, and plenty to be grateful for. Sometimes the search for happiness seems ridiculous.

Because, really, if all my basic needs are being met – food, shelter, companionship – why shouldn’t I be happy?

And if I’m not happy, then the fault isn’t with my environment, it’s with me.

So I keep picking out weeds. There are two very specific types – one is grassy-looking, and the other is purplish and wet when you pull it from the ground. I’m picking weeds and trying to own my happiness.

(And I’m also thinking thoughts about how I kind of hate gardening, but kind of love it too. Connecting with the earth is just an essential component of being human. Then, following that, some fist-shaking “kids these days” thoughts about screen addiction.)

One major block to my happiness, I realize, is in framing. It’s in the language I use to myself. I’m going through my day thinking, “I don’t like this, I’m overwhelmed, if only this, if only that.”

What if I erased the word “overwhelm” from my internal dictionary? If I stop thinking about being overwhelmed, will I stop feeling overwhelmed?

And instead of thinking “I don’t like this” (when Jane screams in response to not getting her way, or harassing me while I’m trying to finish lunch clean-up), what if I just accepted the situation for what it is, instead of rejecting it?

And instead of thinking “If only…”, what if I started dealing in reality instead of trying to peddle a fantasy?

That’s why all these “perfect day” posts just sound like bullshit.

If you’re fathoming a perfect day, then yes, it can be motivating. It can help you get your priorities straight. Knowing the components of your perfect day can help you see what really matters to you. That’s all good, that’s not bullshit.

But as soon as you start fantasizing about your perfect day, you start resenting the little flaws in your everyday. My “perfect day” involves waking up early to practice piano. But what if I’m running on no sleep because Jane was sick in the night? What if my husband has to go to work early, and I’m unable to get fully immersed in practice because of the reality of being a mother to a small toddler?

Now my day isn’t perfect. When I look at it like that, the entire day becomes marred by this. It’s a cloud against my sunshine.

But it’s all make-believe. The cloud doesn’t exist, it’s just something I said. It’s just words.

Or maybe my perfect day involves cooking and eating something delicious. My family loves okonomiyaki. But what if Jane decides that this meal she’d rather stuff her okonomiyaki in her water glass, or eat nothing but sauce with a spoon?

I put all of this expectation into having this wonderful experience – sharing and enjoying a meal – and when it doesn’t go according to plan and the fantasy collapses, what then?

Is it better to just lose the fantasy?

Or maybe even better than losing the fantasy of a perfect day is embracing non-attachment. Don’t attach to any outcomes, que cera cera. But that’s hard. It’s really hard.

It’s language, it’s reframing, I’m sure of it. Instead of, “This child is ruining my perfect idea of dinner”, what about laughing it off? Making sideways jokes with my husband about the situation?

It’s ceding control. Life is messy and the way isn’t always paved. There are bugs in that beautiful beach image. There are slugs in the garden. If you have children, there is lots of poop.

Instead of thinking, “This is my perfect day and I’m going to iron-fist it into reality”, maybe I should simply have an outline of what my perfect day would include.

  • Music.
  • My husband.
  • My daughter.
  • A friend or family member.
  • Moving my body.
  • Breathing fresh air.
  • Waking up early.
  • Writing.
  • Reading.
  • A project.
  • Good food.

All of these, with an asterisk. All of these, not a prescription. All of these, in some capacity.

Instead of “practice piano at 6:30am”, it becomes “music”. Maybe most days I practice at 6:30am. Maybe some days I practice when my daughter goes to bed. Maybe some days I don’t practice at all, but I sing songs with her. Or we turn on Spotify and dance around.

Instead of “cook a nice meal and enjoy nice family time”, it’s just “good food”. Good food can be homemade gnocchi with sage butter sauce, and it can be pre-made veggie burgers. It can be a nice conversation with a peaceful toddler, or it can be 5-second pockets of conversation between bouts of toddler outrage.

Maybe I only breathe fresh air for five minutes while doing errands because it’s forty below. Or maybe I spend the entire spring day outdoors. Maybe I have a long and sprawling yoga session, or maybe it’s just weeding in the garden. Maybe it’s actually talking with my mom or cousin or spending time with a close friend, but maybe it’s just sending them a quick message or making someone a birthday card. Maybe it’s my daughter and I enjoying some specific, pre-arranged activity, or maybe we’re simply in the backyard with no plan and no agenda. Maybe my husband and I have a deep conversation when Jane goes to bed. Or maybe we just parallel play in silence, my feet propped up on his lap. Maybe reading isn’t always Tolstoy, and writing isn’t always striving for something. Maybe my project is getting a picture framed one day, painting with Jane the next, and decluttering one-fifth of a closet the next.

This picture is impressionist. Bright, impassioned, raw, expressive, and non-specific. Messy. It opens me up. It evokes a big yes.

Maybe the messy days can become the best days.

-Allysia

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15 Month Baby (Or is it toddler?) Update!

Hey friends!

I’m finally back with a video update featuring the life and times of my daughter. I talk about things like nursing and cloth diapering, and what developmental milestones she’s going through – as well as giving you a peek into life with a small and active child.

Enjoy!

-Allysia

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